“But Schwartz can coordinate himself some defense, and if there’s anything that was most slapstick about the Lions’ 0-16 season, it was the Swiss cheese defense they put on the field every Sunday.”


Let’s take a little poll.

By a show of hands, how many of you heard of new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz prior to, say, Christmas Day?

I don’t see too many digits wagging. Let’s try by round of applause.

Hmm…awfully quiet in here, isn’t it?

Schwartz is the poor sap Lions management has tapped to transform its wretched football team into something that you can, at the very least, watch with both eyes open. That few people had ever heard of him prior to his name being bandied about in rumors after the season is inconsequential. He’s The Guy. So deal with it.

For the record, Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Been that for the past eight seasons. By the numbers, Schwartz has coordinated some of the finest defenses in the NFL. Still, he did so largely in anonymity. Only the most diehard fans keep track of who the coordinators are for every team in the league.

Soon after the 2008 season ended – the Lions sans even one victory throughout the 16-game schedule – coach Rod Marinelli was canned. No surprise there. Then the names started being bandied about.

Schwartz’s kept rolling off the tongues of the so-called NFL “insiders”. The cape of anonymity was beginning to be ripped away from his back.

Defensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans. Even casual fans knew that the Titans have been known lately for having shutdown defenses.

2008 turned into 2009. Shaking off the fuzz of the New Year’s frivolities, more and more Lions fans became acutely aware of Jim Schwartz. He was going to be interviewed, in cloak and dagger fashion, somewhere in these United States.

Other names were mentioned as possible Lions coaches. But none more than Schwartz’s.

Then, on Monday the 12th, the Lions made Schwartz available for the media. He was in town for interview no. 2. This one was going to be with owner Bill Ford Sr. It was becoming more and more evident that this previously unknown assistant coach and little-known defensive coordinator was the Lions’ man. At the press gathering, Schwartz made a joke.

“I think,” he said of the Lions’ quarterback situation, “that it’s time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne.”

Schwartz displayed a key quality needed to coach the Lions: a wonderful sense of gallows humor.


Schwartz, prowling the sidelines as the Titans’ Coordinator of Defense

Then, on Friday the 16th…

“I’m not here to exorcise ghosts of the past,” Schwartz, newly-hired as Lions head coach, said to the throng gathered at Ford Field. It was a nice sentiment, but someone should have broken the news to him: that’s exactly what he’s been brought to Detroit to do. Or else, why bother hiring a new coach at all?

Jim Schwartz has some credentials. He’s worked for a winning NFL program, in the upper level of coaching management. A coordinator position, if it was a beer, would be known as Head Coach Lite.

Don’t always fear the unknown.

In 1983, a well-coiffed gentleman stood before the Detroit media and posed with a basketball. He was dressed to the nines. We’d soon find out that, to Chuck Daly, “casual day” meant you left the hanky out of the pocket.


Chuck Daly: from unknown to Hall of Fame

Daly was unknown, largely. He had been a basketball coach out east, at the college level. He was an anonymous NBA assistant in Philadelphia. In between he gabbed into a radio microphone for a time, analyzing the Sixers games. Then, due to some unfortunate luck, Daly became interim coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a time when the team was derisively known as the Cadavers.

His record as an interim was 9-32.

And that was his career NBA coaching record when Pistons GM Jack McCloskey tried to sell Chuck Daly to the denizens in town as the answer to the team’s ongoing troubles. It was soon learned that Daly became the Pistons’ coach because a few bigger-named guys turned McCloskey down flat.

I can assure you that hardly anyone knew who the hell Chuck Daly was before he was unveiled to the media in May 1983. Then his resume was printed in the paper, and many of us wished we never met him at all. He appeared to be, at the time, just another sad sack coach breezing through town.

Today, when you walk into The Palace of Auburn Hills and look up, way up, you’ll see a banner with Chuck Daly’s name and symbolic “number” – 2 (for two NBA championships) – emblazoned on it.

The unknown coach hasn’t always worked out. To that, I must admit. And the Lions have had themselves plenty of those types.

Rick Forzano. Tommy Hudspeth. Marty Mornhinweg. Rod Marinelli. They were, after all was said and done, guys who were indeed just breezing through town.

So it’s forgivable and understandable for you to be wary of yet another low profile, no-name guy who’s been brought in to resuscitate pro football in Detroit. I don’t expect handstands and confetti because the Lions hired Jim Schwartz.

But Schwartz can coordinate himself some defense, and if there’s anything that was most slapstick about the Lions’ 0-16 season, it was the Swiss cheese defense they put on the field every Sunday. It was a defense bereft of playmakers, with pass defenders who played as if they were allergic to the football. It was, frankly, a joke.

Still, you’re given a free pass if you snicker and sneer at the hiring of the previously unknown Jim Schwartz. You do, after all, have history mostly on your side.

But what if Schwartz can coach a little bit, and sticks around for nine years or so, like Chuck Daly did with the Pistons?

It’s not like the Lions aren’t due or anything.

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